Avoiding harsh reflections while photographing jewelry, especially metallic jewelry, is easy with a light tent. In this tutorial, I will help you create your own simple and adaptable light tent that can be used under any light source and with any camera. Once you have your cone made, it’s just a matter of lighting it and making a few tweaks to produce well-lit photographs of your jewelry.
Things You Will Need
- White translucent paper such as craft paper
- Clear tape
- Blue painter’s tape
1. Creating a Test Image to Determine Measurements
- Set up a test image to get an idea of how the dimensions should look. I placed a ruler across the long edge of my image, so I know that the base of my light cone tent should be at least 8 cm in diameter to ensure that it can’t be seen in the image.
- You want to make sure the subject is in focus and note how far away the lens is from the subject. Every lens has a minimum focusing distance—once you are closer to the subject than that distance, the lens will not bring the subject into focus. This measurement will help determine the minimum height of the light tent. In my test image, I am 22 cm away.
- The last measurement you need is the diameter of your lens hood or, if your lens doesn’t have a hood, the lens diameter. This will let you know how large the opening at the top must be to fit your lens in so you can take a picture. In my example, I need a lens opening of 77 mm so it will fit on my lens hood.
2. Constructing the Light Cone Tent
The following method of creating this truncated cone shape uses minimal math but some trial and error.
- Start with a square piece of paper. Then find and mark the center.
- Draw out a circle on your paper from the center. The radius or distance from the center to the edge should be longer than your minimum focusing distance. The radius I am using is is 26 cm.
- Cut the circle out and make a slit to the center of the circle along a straight line.
- Roll up the cone until it overlaps and the height is near the measurement you used for the radius of your circle. You might have to cut out up to a quarter of the cone, as I did, if you can clearly see that you have too much paper.
- Adjust the base of the cone so it evenly rests on the table.
- Tape the cone together temporarily with painter’s tape.
- Measure the point where the cone is wide enough to fit the lens inside. Either place the lens hood on top of the cone and draw a line around, or place the lens inside and trace a line around.
- Draw a line where the paper meets, and unroll the cone.
- Measure out 1 cm extra distance from the tall, straight edge you drew on your paper. This will give you a seam and some allowance to help shape the cone.
- Cut along the straight edge you just made.
- Cut out the center circle that will fit around your lens.
- Roll up the cone and tape it again temporarily. Test out the cone to make sure it fits your camera and isn't in the way of the lens.
- Smooth out the cone until it rests evenly on the table top and fits nicely around the lens.
- Remove the temporary tape and join up the cone with clear tape.
Now you have your own light cone tent. If you like the way it works, you can make a more durable tent out of a tougher material such as frosted Mylar. It will be even easier to build since you can use the one you just made as a template.
3. Lighting the Cone
Lighting the cone is very simple because light becomes diffused as it passes through the paper. The light then reflects around inside the tent and becomes even and consistent. This is why lighting the tent is so easy. You can create subtle differences in the final photos by re-positioning lights or blocking light out with a piece of cardboard.
Here's an example of what earrings look like without the tent in harsh sunlight.
And here's an example using the cone with exactly the same harsh sunlight coming in through the studio window.
Another way to use the light cone tent is with studio lights. When lighting a tent, I generally place a pair of lights at equal distances on either side of the tent.
Since this tent can attach to your camera, you can use it in conjunction with a model. Just make sure that most of the light reaching the subject is coming through the tent.
There is a lot more great information on macro photography available in the Tuts+ Macro Photography series.
Try some of these techniques with this light cone tent and you will have an amazing tool box for close-up photography.
4. Taking the Photo
Color balance is key to great product photos. When using a light tent, it is important to set white balance inside the tent because the material the tent is made from can alter the color of light inside. I am using my camera’s custom white balance. To set custom white balance, I will select that option in my camera’s menu and use a gray card to adjust the white balance.
To set exposure for the camera, I will use the camera’s shutter speed priority mode (A). I am also using the exposure compensation function to force the camera to increase the exposure by +1. I use this amount of exposure compensation whenever the camera’s frame has a lot of similar tones in it, like whenever I am photographing on studio backdrops.
Now you are ready to take your photos.
5. Making Adjustments to the Photo
It is important to make a couple of basic adjustments to every image. The first adjustment we will make is to the Levels. In Adobe Photoshop, find the Adjustment panel and click on the Levels button. This tool will adjust the tones in the image to look more like the original item. The Levels adjustment shows a histogram that has three sliders under it.
We will begin by adjusting the slider for the light areas of the image. It is found on the right side. Take that slider and slide it to the left until it meets the histogram graph. This will brighten the light areas of the image.
Next, take the slider found on the left side and slide it to the right until it meets the histogram graph. This will darken the darker areas of the image.
The third slider lies under the center of the histogram and adjusts the overall brightness of the image. If your image looks too light or dark, try adjusting the center slider slightly left or right.
The second adjustment we will make is to sharpen the image using the Smart Sharpen filter. Zoom in to 100% on the image. Then, go up to the Filter menu and find the Sharpen option. Select the Smart Sharpen option in the submenu. I will set the overall amount to somewhere around 200%, to where I see the edges become more defined or until I see the metal surface detail becoming clearer. I will keep the radius at 1.5 pixels to provide a visual boost to this softly lit image. The goal with this adjustment is to enhance the crispness of the edges.
Now that you have your very own light cone tent and the information on how to use it, you can begin photographing anything that fits inside it. With the proper lighting and a few adjustments to the image, you will have a professional-looking photograph of your work. Here is a look at my final images.
Product photography is in incredibly diverse and rewarding field of photography. Check out our series on product photography for more tips!